Luke Somers, 1981-2014

Luke Somers, an American photojournalist, was killed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula early last Saturday, December 6. Luke had been held captive by AQAP for fourteen months. Along with another captive, South African teacher Pierre Korkie, Luke was apparently executed in haste as American Special Operations Forces commandos stormed the compound in Shabwah where the two were being held. Though Luke’s long captivity was something of an open secret in San‘a, it had received almost no coverage in the international press. This was deliberate; Luke’s family asked, from the beginning, for an embargo on coverage. The idea, as I understood it, was that minimizing Luke’s publicity would make negotiations for his release easier. Like many in San‘a, I learned about Luke’s kidnapping very soon after it occurred; like his friends among the press corps in Yemen, I refrained from writing anything about Luke, and urged others not to mention his name online. We all held on to the hope that he would eventually be freed.

On November 25, US commandos raided an AQAP location in hopes of rescuing Luke. The raid freed several other hostages, but Luke had been moved ahead of the operation. During the second raid, on the 6th, a number of AQAP fighters were killed by US forces. The Pentagon reported no casualties among the US assault team. Some sources reported that the Americans killed several civilians as well as Luke’s captors. According to Yemeni government spokesman Mohammed Albasha, four Yemeni soldiers participating in the operation were wounded. The South African charity for which Pierre Korkie worked said that they had previously reached an agreement with AQAP for Korkie’s release, which would have taken place on the 7th. Korkie’s wife Yolande, who was kidnapped with him, was released by AQAP in January.

Luke’s family has told press that they were not informed of plans for either raid ahead of time, and suggest that they would have objected if given the chance.

Luke was well-liked and respected by those who knew him. He had worked hard as a journalist to bring under-reported stories to light, and he cared deeply about Yemen and its people.

Tom Finn wrote a touching piece about Luke for Middle East Eye, and the BBC published this profile, which includes links to some of Luke’s work. Some of Luke’s friends have established a fund to help Luke’s family pay for funeral arrangements; if you feel so inclined, you can make a donation here.

There are only a handful of foreign journalists working in Yemen today. They risk a great deal to cover a country that is badly misunderstood in the wider world. Yemeni journalists risk even more. We are extremely grateful for their efforts in the face of many dangers and obstacles. Perhaps the best way to honor their sacrifice is to make sure we bear witness to the stories they tell.

You can view an archive of Luke’s photographs here.